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Focused, unfocused, and de-focused information in working memory

Type of publication Peer-reviewed
Publikationsform Original article (peer-reviewed)
Author Rerko Laura, Oberauer Klaus,
Project Attention looking out and looking inward: How is the focus of attention in WM related to perceptual attention?
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Original article (peer-reviewed)

Journal Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition
Title of proceedings Journal of Experimental Psychology: Learning, Memory, and Cognition


The study investigates the effect of selection cues in working memory (WM) on the fate of not-selected contents of WM. Experiments 1A and 1B show that focusing on one cued item in WM does not impair memory for the remaining items. The non-focused items are maintained in WM even when this is not required by the task. Experiments 2 and 3 show that items that were once focused in WM remain strengthened after the focus shifts away from them. When de-focused items are presented as mismatching recognition probes, they are rejected better than other mismatching probes (Experiments 2 and 3). When a de-focused item was later cued again, such that the focus had to shift back to it, then that item was recognized better than an item cued for the first time (Experiment 3). The results support the distinction between mechanisms for temporary maintenance and the focus of attention in WM, and challenge theories that explain maintenance and focusing by the same mechanisms, such as a limited number of slots or a limited resource.